Nov. 18—Bill Carstanjen, chief executive officer of Churchill Downs, has a message for the people of Vigo County: "Get ready — we're coming."
The Indiana Gaming Commission by a 7-0 vote Wednesday evening declared it would grant the Vigo County casino license to CDITH LLC (Churchill Downs) to build and operate the Queen of Terre Haute casino.
A moment earlier, a motion to award the license to Full House Resorts failed on a 5-2 vote.
Mike McMains, IGC commissioner, and Marc Fine initially voted for Full House, but after that vote failed they added their votes to the Churchill Downs option.
CDI is the owner of about a dozen casinos and five racing facilities including Churchill Downs racetrack in Lousiville, Kentucky, home of the legendary Kentucky Derby horse race every May.
At the public hearing in Indianapolis, the commission heard from four applicants — Full House, Hard Rock, Premier Gaming and Churchill Downs — as they each gave 30-minute breakdowns of their visions for a Terre Haute casino.
Marc Fine, who presided over the deciding meeting while McMains attended the hearing via telephone, complimented all of the applicants, saying, "The winner here clearly is the city of Terre Haute."
With questions from the commission, each presentation except for Premier's lasted a little over an hour. After the initial presentations, the field was cut to Full House and Churchill Downs Inc., with Hard Rock and Premier Gaming failing to make the final slate.
Churchill Downs was the only applicant that did not envision its casino at the juncture of Interstate 70 and Indiana 46, saying it would pitch its building on 20.9 acres of undeveloped land on Honey Creek Drive near Haute City Center Mall.
Churchill Downs says it will invest $190 million, with $110 million of that for construction of a 392,816-square-foot facility, creating 1,000 construction jobs. The casino portion of the building would be 56,400 square feet.
The project would create 500 permanent jobs with 1,000 slot machines and 50 game tables and a 10-story, 125-room luxury hotel and TwinSpires sportsbook. Churchill Downs projects its casino will produce $638.9 million in gross gaming receipts in the first five years as it will be receiving 6.7 million visitors.
The company envisions an entertainment space with seating for 500 patrons "to ensure that the Special Events Room complements, rather than competes with, the new $35 million Terre Haute Convention Center. Once open, we believe the Queen of Terre Haute and its Special Events Room will be a powerful tool to help Terre Haute attract events to its new downtown convention center."
The facility would have a maximum capacity of 6,600 people, with the connecting hotel at a capacity of 900 people, featuring standard, junior and executive suites as well as a presidential suite. The complex would include Indiana-themed art — including the iconic Coke bottle and Larry Bird playing basketball for Indiana State University. It is projected to serve in excess of 1.3 million gaming patrons per year.
Asked by the commission about its decision to locate near Haute City Center, Carstanjen conceded the other applicants were seven miles closer to potential customers in west Indianapolis, but "we don't see that much difference." He also said he's willing to listen to the city and reconsider the casino's location.
In his closing statement to the commission, Carstanjen produced a check for $5 million — the fee for the license, which is the last currently scheduled to be issued by the state of Indiana — and said the commission could have it right there and then.
"I didn't think it would be so dramatic, but it did feel dramatic when I did it — my usual day is not like this," Carstanjen said, adding that the check was in the possession of an assistant who would soon be passing it along to the commission.
Castanjen said making his presentation didn't feel stressful, because the commission has been so candid and professional throughout the process. He said he believes his group won the license because its presentation was the most detailed and was backed by outside professional validation.
"We will do right by this decision," he said. "We're getting started right now." He expects the casino to be up and running within 12-16 months.
Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett, who attended the meeting and had earlier sent the commission a letter in support of Hard Rock's bid — as did the Terre Haute City Council and the Vigo County Board of Commissioners said, "This has been quite a process and I'm just glad it's over. ... It's been a long process."
County Commissioner Chris Switzer also was at the event.
Earlier, the commission's Executive Director Greg Small said, "This decision has been pending too long, and too little has been done" to accelerate the process.
Bennett said he didn't know what result to expect from the meeting.
"Any would have been a good fit, but in the end, I'm just thankful we're getting a casino. It will be great to work with professionals like Churchill Downs."
The mayor said he still believes the east-side location is a better location for the casino, and Indiana 46 remains in the process of a major upgrade in apparent anticipation of a nearby casino.
The Queen of Terre Haute refers to an old nickname for the city, the Queen City of the Wabash.
David Kronke can be reached at 812-231-4232 or at email@example.com.